Despite all our shortcomings...Sunday, January 16, 2022
It is perhaps a good thing that we, ourselves, are our harshest critics. We beat up on ourselves incessantly and there is no shortage of things to carp about — crime and violence, indiscipline, corruption, faulty delivery of public services, etc. It pushes us to do better. Yet, there is much about us, imperfect as we are, for which we must be thankful and about which we can be proud.
This thought comes sharply to mind when we see what happens in other “stable democracies”. Lack of confidence in our electoral system is an issue we have had to wrestle with. Political activists as election officials, gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, constituencies routinely recording more than 100 per cent voter turnout were features of our electoral system up to the 1970s. But we found the maturity to fix it. Since then, we have had elections with nail-biting results, especially 2016 with a plurality of just over 3,000 votes and a single-seat parliamentary majority. Yet, there was no turmoil, the election results were not disputed, and the legitimacy of the elected Government was not questioned.
From time to time we witness deplorable behaviour in our Parliament, but we have never seen Members of Parliament physically exchanging blows as we saw recently in Jordan, Kenya, and Ghana, and as we have seen before in “mature democracies” like Japan and South Korea.
The great United States, in particular, is undergoing a dangerous transformation — a virtual revolution that seeks to overturn much of what that country is supposed to have stood for. I cannot imagine any Opposition party in Jamaica today disputing the result of an election without being able to produce a shred of credible evidence, relying, instead, on weird conspiracy theories like ballots made from bamboo fibre brought in from China or genuine ballots shredded and fed to chickens.
On eight separate occasions since adult suffrage Jamaica has witnessed the peaceful transfer of power following an election. I cant imagine any Opposition party mobilising its supporters after an election to storm and ransack Gordon House or erect gallows from which to hang the Speaker or the deputy prime minister. Neither can I envisage any Opposition leader hailing them as patriots — as Donald Trump has done in reference to the January 6 insurrection.
Many analysts and commentators insist that political parties should confine themselves to political organisation and election campaigns and should have nothing to do with the running of Government. US President Joe Biden today finds himself in a state of paralysis. Political parties in the United States have no national, pyramidic structure. Each state's Republican or Democratic party organisation is autonomous. Policies on which election campaigns are conducted are determined not by the political parties but by the presidential candidates, which leads to the problems Biden is having where his policies can't get the support of some of his own members in the Congress. Although the Democrats nominally control the Senate, the Republicans are effectively in command with Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Senema being constant Democratic holdouts.
In Jamaica, political parties with stated policy positions and disciplined organisations lend stability and predictability to both Government and Parliament. Members of Parliament are frequently derided for voting the party line and are urged to vote according to their conscience. That is what produces the kind of mess that is playing out on Capitol Hill.
Judges are supposed to interpret and apply the law and the provisions of our constitution. I have never heard any credible argument put forward that questions the integrity of our judges. The ideological leaning of some of them can be discerned from their remarks in delivering their judgements, but not from how they arrived at those judgements. On the other hand, when issues go before the US Supreme Court, one can accurately predict how each of the nine judges will vote. It has, in fact, become a partisan political chamber.
At the root of the conundrum in the United States is a crisis of identity and a conflict of values. In a previous article I argued that its acclaimed pride in its diversity and recognition of equality has turned out to be merely a screen that had masked what it really is and is now determined to reassert. Donald Trump did not have the intellectual acuity to create this dilemma. He was merely the match that ignited the bonfire.
The rebellion that is now in full stride in the United States, like so many others in the annals of history, draws its energy from a cult-like metamorphosis. How else does one explain the significant proportion of the American population that insists, without any evidence, that the 2020 elections were rigged? Or the gatherings in Dallas awaiting the return of John F Kennedy Jr to be Trump's vice-president in 2024? Or Ted Cruz, a Rhode scholar to boot, begging for forgiveness on Fox News last week after referring the day before to the January 6 event as a terrorist attack? Or the genuflecting by potential Republican candidates for Trump's blessing before the primary elections?
Barack Obama's election as the first black president of the United States was a watershed moment for black people there and, indeed, throughout the world, but it was also a turning point for white Americans who have long been uncomfortable with its changing identity. How could this skinny, black fellow with a funny Muslim-sounding name be allowed to become their president? In a little over 20 years from now, white Americans are expected to become a minority “in their own land”. That has to be stopped, and with the urgency of now.
It is a dubious coincidence that the violent, right-wing extremist groups, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, were formed around the time Obama came to office. The Proud Boys, whom Trump exhorted to “stand back and stand by”, came later.
Of significance, too, is the fact that many of these violent extremists are former members of the armed forces. In a frightening op-ed published in The Washington Post last month, three retired US generals stated that there are many currently serving in the armed forces who are sympathetic to the right-wing extremists, creating “the potential for lethal chaos inside our military”. They warned that the US could be subject to a military coup, and that if Trump loses the 2024 election “renegade military units might overthrow the election winner and install Mr Trump in the White House”.
Yes, we in Jamaica have a lot to criticise and complain about. But we also have a lot to be thankful for, to be proud about, and to protect.
Bruce Golding served as Jamaica’s eighth prime minister from September 11, 2007 to October 23, 2011.